Sheila Graber on her conversion to computer animation – Page 3

My next main Mac job was to link with my North East Independent TV Station Tyne Tees Television in providing an animated title sequence and short “stings” on the theme Powerhouse (A sort of Tomorrow’s World from the North) and six by 4-minute programme inserts; complete short “Monty Python Style” animated programmes in themselves; entitled Great British Pioneers. A wonderful chance to explore, I thought, until I realised transmission date commenced two weeks from now.

Great British Pioneers - Macromind generated computer image of George Stephenson created over blue background. Computer or Edit Suite Keyer then makes the Background Blue invisible and Live Video can take its place.

Now the Mac really came into it’s own: to plan, draw, trace, paint and film a 4-minute animated programme would have taken me, working at warp speed, three weeks, allowing for delays at the processing laboratory and possible re-shoots. Now I found it was possible to turn a 4-minute programme around in 4 days; bearing in mind most backgrounds were being generated on Video.

An SVHS master was fine for the Museum job, now I used the SVHS suite as a means of reading VHS time-coded archive footage supplied by Tyne Tees. First I put the rough cut together using the Nu-Vista to Key the animation over the time coded video. Then I hired in a Betacam machine and, via a set of second hand R.G.B. Betacam converter leads, dropped all the animation, set on Bright Blue Background, onto tape.

At TTTV studios we then Keyed in live Beta Footage behind the animation using the down-stream keyer built into their edit suite.

This whole procedure is far easier to do than to talk about, all it proves is that whether you are using VHS at home or Betacam SP in a studio the Editing and Keying principle is exactly the same.

As Christmas approached it brought with it a couple of Commercials: one, a fully animated advert for a Kiddies Record Album proved that Macromind could catch my “normal” hand animated style and perform pans and wipes with memory hungry ease, whilst an energetic Snow Elk was called in to be overlaid on a busy shopping complex advert.

The Live Action was shot on Betacam and converted to VHS. I grabbed in key frames to the computer; printed them out; pegged them up on ye olde light box; drew the Elk at 25-frames per second; and despatched line drawings to be grabbed into a Paint Box. Thereafter, another Studio did the business of colouring and keying.

When the programme went on air I noticed the character was a little transparent in places and the key-line showed. This would never have happened on the Mac, so I learned that a multi-multi-thousand pound system isn’t always better than a multi-thousand one.

The main job of 1991, running through all the others discussed, was to complete a commission involving the animation of the work of Turner, the English landscape artist, to run with a Tate Gallery exhibition of his work touring the country. The twenty-nine works ranged from very early darkly classic style to very late, brilliantly coloured canvases of pure energy.

Turner character created on Mac for the Video From Darkness to Light, hoping to catch his short legs, big nose and lively cockney spirit.

So the concept emerged, From Darkness to Light, and after considerable research the character of Turner himself stepped from the shadows. I had always thought of him as being rather remote academic, he turned out to be short, stocky, and ugly with a broad Cockney accent. He was loved by all for his friendly manner and inaudible jokes (due to the Cockney accent) which he continually cracked. Hardy and tough, he travelled in all weathers gathering first hand-information for his work. Independent and visionary, he fore-shadowed Impressionism and even Expressionism well before these terms were invented.

With 1990 being the 50th anniversary of Fantasia’s (and my own) birth I had all the tunes in my head. “The Sorcerers Apprentice” seemed just right for Turner, who was certainly a bit of a magician, and the magical Mac helped me combine all the elements listed into a 5-minute video, which hopefully serves as a fun introduction to the real-works of the Master. It incorporates Live footage of Turner’s paintings, Location shots and Computer generated animated images. Not a pencil touched my light box and not a ccl touched my rostrum. A year ago I would not have thought this possible. The little fifteen-page “flick corner” in this edition of Animator is based on images grabbed from the movie. The small section of “Macromind Score” displays the various “Cel Layers” used in the “flick” whilst the Macromind Cast shows the separate “Cels” themselves.

Now I’m fully kitted out with Computer Gear I think I will stick with it – would anyone out there like to buy a quantity of triple pan cels? I get the feeling I’m never going to use them again.

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Printed in Animator Issue 29 (Spring 1992)